Back in 2014, I saw the original movie for Dear White People. I really loved the film and its message to the Black community and everyone else in general. When I saw there was going to be a TV show, I was really excited. I have been waiting for this series for well over a year, and let me tell you, it was well worth the wait. Like the movie, the show was met with a lot of controversy. On the date announcement on YouTube, there are currently over 4 million views, with 57,000 likes and…over 420,000 dislikes. I checked IMDb, and the first time I checked the rating, it was at a 4.8 out of 100, but it’s fresh at 100 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Creator Justin Simien had originally titled the script 2%, based on the Black population of the fictional Winchester University, but decided to go in a different direction. He decided to go with something a little more provocative. A little BOLDER. Indeed, it has gotten people talking. If you give the show (and film) a chance, you’ll realize there’s more to it than meets the eye.
I really love the series, because it goes into the aftermath of the Blackface party portrayed in the film. Since we have a longer format, we get to dive deeper into the characters, and I loved how the series exposes us to the modern Black community, and even addresses some issues within. Most of the episodes in the series focus on one of the protagonists, and explored some amazing aspects of their backstories and personalities that we didn’t see in the film.
As a mixed woman (Half Black, half Mexican), the majority of my life has been spent trying to figure out my identity- which included grappling with my Blackness. In Dear White People, Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) jokingly mentions two types of mixed Black women- Tracee Ellis Ross Mixed, and Rashida Jones Mixed. I cringed. Most of my life, in other people’s perception of Blackness, I passed undetected…Some people feigning surprise when I admitted I was half Black. Do you know how many times I’ve heard others talk about Black people? Those talking not realizing I was one of “them”? Or how many times I sat among my own people, they not quite realizing or acknowledging I was one of them too? I remember in my earlier days in college, I approached a table for a sorority. The girl manning the table didn’t even bother to look at me when I approached. She stared intently into her tablet, not paying me any mind. There was a tri-board detailing the sorority. I asked the girl to tell me more- with genuine interest. “Did you read the board?” She asked abruptly. I said yes, but I wanted to know more. She didn’t explain very much, and seemed disinterested in me. She barely looked at me and went back to her tablet. I slowly walked away. That was only one of a few experiences I have had in my life, and I had had quite a few (larger) negative ones at that point. I felt small, and like I wasn’t a part of my own community. For a really long time, I had steered clear of BSU-type events, because I didn’t feel “Black” enough. I didn’t feel “woke” enough. I remembered in childhood when I was picked on for the things I liked, the way I spoke, and how I was called “White Girl” on occasions. It hurt. Not to mention, I didn’t feel “Mexican” enough either. The Black community often screams for acceptance, but at times we struggle to accept and support our own- who don’t fit the mold of what we think BLACKNESS is, or who don’t seem be doing things to our liking. I think Dear White People highlighted this perfectly. Now don’t get me wrong, other communities have similar issues- but in the Black community, its amplified because society has preconditioned us to be that way. Who are we giving a seat at our table? Or who are we excluding?
Each character presented in the show is flawed in some way, and has a different relationship with their Blackness. Sam (Logan Browning) is militant and more “woke” than her peers, but she still seems to struggle with who she is, and possibly seems to be overcompensating for her other half. Her, Reggie (Marque Richardson), and their friends decide to rate people on their “wokeness”, and tend to preach their ideals to others. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the cause, but don’t let it blind you. Are you sidelining others at the expense of the cause?
In the flashback episode with Coco (Antoinette Robinson), we see that Sam wasn’t even allowed to sit at the table with the BSU girls, but then joined them later as she began to fit their ideals, which caused a rift with Coco. Coco, on the other hand has an entirely different struggle. In the film, she is portrayed as more villainous, but her story is one that is all to familiar, yet sadly overlooked. She has the “adapt to survive” mentality, and has groomed herself for success. On the surface she’s perfect, but we see someone who is an outsider. In fact she is deemed not “woke” by Sam- and we learn it’s quite the contrary. Coco, admitting later on she’s from the South side of Chicago, has been aware since she was old enough to be aware. She’s been exposed to more than her peers have, yet she has fought to overcome that. She has her group of white friends, but we see throughout the show how she is treated differently. And even more heartbreaking, how she pledges a prestigious Black sorority, but the sisters aren’t accepting of her when she was looking for acceptance. This episode reminded me of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air…Do you remember it?
Just because Coco’s different, doesn’t mean she’s not woke, which leads me to the next character- Troy (Brandon P. Bell). Like Coco, he’s been groomed from youth to be the Model Black Man. He’s condemned for his ideals that were instilled in him by his father, who is the Dean. In an act of foreshadowing, Dean Fairbanks states that he doesn’t believe that Troy is capable of getting into the same kind of situation that Reggie has- in this case have a cop question his presence at an ivy league college, and then have a gun pulled on him for showing slight resistance. In the last episode of the series, Troy breaks a window in a fit of anger and is promptly arrested. Luckily, Dean Fairbanks was there to stop the situation from escalating. He watches- devastated, with a single tear rolling down his cheek, as his son is pushed into a cop car, and driven away. Despite all his grooming, Troy is just black like all the “others”.
The events after the Blackface party seem to be way more complex, and illuminating of race relations in our society. Black people, we’re all Black- so why are we so divided at times? Especially in today’s society- we have a common goal. I at least know I want to see more of us represented, and receive equal opportunity and treatment. Even though I’m not many people’s ideal of Black, I am BLACK enough. Black enough to care about what’s going on in my community, and black enough to hurt when the same injustices happen OVER and OVER again in our country and around the world. Honestly, I can’t 100% relate with the Black Experience, but it shouldn’t make me any less Black.
The best character in Dear White People is Lionel (DeRon Horton). He has the best transition from film to series, and the best character development. He comes to terms with being Black and gay, and despite his introversion uses his voice to spark the resistance. He alerts the other students about the Blackface party, and in the end of the series, he exposes some crooked donors to the student body. He even writes a revealing article about Troy and the imperfection behind his perfect exterior. He’s awkward and strange, yet finds his way. He’s not taken seriously and has let others in his own community intimidate him (Revealed when Coco hands him the mic at the town hall). But he realizes he is part of the same community and struggles. His portrayal was a welcome one- especially for someone like me.
Dear White People is less about white people than it is about US, but it should be required watching for everyone.
ADRIANA, THE CINEMA SOLOIST